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East L.A. Walkouts, 1968

The East Los Angeles Walkouts(or Blowouts) became the largest high school student protest in American history and the first significant mass Latino protests. It involved thousands of students from East Los Angeles high schools walking out of classes in 1968 to protest substandard and discriminatory treatment of Latino students and their schools.* Among the key organizers of the protests was Lincoln High School teacher Sal Castro, 34, and Moctesuma Esparza (then age 19), one of the few Latino students at UCLA, who already had been an activist in East L.A. schools since 1965 and was actively organizing Latino college students. Other key organizers were Lincoln High School students Paula Crisostomo, Boby Verdugo and Yoli Rios, Garfield High student Harry Gamboa, Jr. and Brown Beret leader Carlos Montes.

By 1968, frustrated at being ignored by the Los Angeles Board of Education, East Los Angeles students and activists called for a boycott of schools in East Los Angeles. Organizers planned for a massive boycott of schools to begin on March 6. On March 1, 1968, however, 300 students at Wilson High School initiated the first, but unplanned, walkout. This was instigated by the principal’s refusal to allow a student-produced performance of the Neil Simon play, “Barefoot in the Park.” Wilson students were not even among those originally planning a walkout. By March 5, some 2,000 students at Garfield, initiated the first planned walkouts, prompting school authorities to call in police. The next day, 2,700 Garfield students walked out again and continued walkouts through March 8. Roosevelt High School students initiated their planned walkout on March 6, climbing over locked gates meant to confine them to campus. Because frustrated authorities could not seem to stop the walkouts, police stepped up arrests and inflicted severe beatings. On March 8, Belmont High School (Downtown Los Angeles) students attempted a walkout, but, with police allowed onto campus and without any adult protection, students were severely beaten and arrested before even being able to leave campus. Despite a heavy presence of local and national media, none of the police violence was reported. By March 8, Lincoln and Jefferson High School students also joined the walkouts and rallied at Hazard Park with fellow protestors from other campuses. On March 11, about 1,500 students from Venice High School, a mostly white school about 20 miles from East Los Angeles, joined the protests and walked off their campus. In the end, although every effort was made to dissuade and bully student protestors, an estimated 15 to 20,000 students walked away from seven high school campuses. They were joined by college student activists, parents and members of the militant Brown Berets. From the viewpoint of some in Los Angeles establishment, including Los Angeles Mayor Sam Yorty, the walkouts were seen as part of a “communist plot.”

On March 11, students, teachers, parents and activists who had formed the Educational Issues Coordinating Committee (EICC) met with the Los Angeles Board of Education to ask for a community meeting to present a list of proposals for resolution. When the board agreed to such a meeting for March 28, students agreed to return to school. On March 28, more than 1,200 people attended the community meeting at Lincoln High School and heard the EICC present a their list of proposals. Although the board did not outright reject the proposals, they claimed that a lack funds prevented the proposals from being implemented. At that point, the EICC and students walked out of what turned out to be an anti-climactic event.

On March 31 (prom night), 13 walkout organizers were arrested and charged with conspiracy to disrupt public schools and disturb the peace. A conviction on the charges carried the threat of serving up to 66 years in prison. The arrestees, becoming known as the East L.A. 13, were Sal Castro, Moctesuma Esparza, La Raza newspaper editors Eliezer Risco, 31, and Joe Razo, 29, Brown Beret “ministers” Carlos Montes, David Sanchez, Ralph Ramirez and Fred Lopez (ages 18 to 20), Carlos Muñoz Jr., 20, Gilberto Olmeda, 23, Richard Vigil, 27, Henry Gomez, 20 and Juan Sanchez, 41. Protesters immediately launched demonstrations outside the Los Angeles Hall of Justice. Black civil rights activists, Students for a Democratic Society, Senator Robert Kennedy and Cesar Chavez offered support for the protests. The Chicano Legal Defense Committee and American Civil Liberties Union stepped in with legal assistance.

Soon after, the arrestees were released on bail except for Castro, who faced the most charges. Protests continued outside police headquarters until Castro finally was released from jail on June 2 with bail. He found that he no longer had a teaching job, though, because school authorities used his arrest on felony charges to justify dismissal. This led protestors to launch 24-7 sit-ins inside the meeting room of the Los Angeles Board of Education. Police arrested protestors for trespassing, taking 35 people into custody. The board, nevertheless, relented on October 2 and restored Castro’s job. His reinstatement, however, did not bring any forgiveness from school authorities with it. For the next five years, Castro endured frequent reassignments away from East Los Angeles and schools with significant Latino populations. He finally landed a consistent assignment to Belmont High School in 1973 where he was able to finish out his teaching career.

In 1970, the California Court of Appeals struck down all indictments of the East L.A. 13. The two-year focus on their legal defense, however, shifted attention away from the problems at East Los Angeles schools. The EEIC itself came apart as internal conflicts arose within the committee. There was some degree of disillusioned among East Los Angeles students the event appeared to have accomplished little. Change did begin to come, however slow, to East Los Angeles schools. Perhaps, the most immediate positive outcomes from the East L.A. Walkout was the empowerment of the Latino community, a cessation of corporal punishment, and a dramatic increase in higher education opportunities for Latino students.

Among the participants in the walkouts was Victoria “Vickie” Castro, a California State University, Los Angeles, student in 1968. She and one of a number of college students were involved in coordinating and assisting the walkout. Castro went on to become an educator, school principal, and, in 1993, the second Latino elected to the Los Angeles Board of Education.

* East Los Angeles high school students in 1968 suffered an average reading level of 8th grade, average class sizes of 40, high dropout rates as high as 45% at Roosevelt and 57% at Garfield, and a ratio of one school counselor to every 4,000 students. In addition, students faced openly bigoted teachers, corporal punishment for speaking Spanish at school, little to no encouragement to prepare for college, substandard school facilities (especially as compared to schools in more affluent areas), locked restrooms during lunch periods, and inadequate custodial staffing (making school custodial work a disciplinary tool).

Sources: Rebecca Contreras, East Los Angeles Students Walkout for Educational Reform, Kelly Simpson, East L.A. Blowouts: Walking Out for Justice in the Classrooms (KCET), Louis Sahagan, They Faced 66 Years in Prison (LA Times), 1968 East LA Blowouts (Weebly), The Walkout — How a Student Movement in 1968 Changed Schools Forever (United Way), East L.A. walkouts (Wikipedia), East L.A. Blowouts (True Vista Latina).


Proposals Presented by the Educational Issues Coordinating Committee (EICC) to the Los Angeles Board of Education, March 28, 1968

Academic

  1. No student or teacher will be reprimanded or suspended for participating in any efforts which are executed for the purpose of improving or furthering the educational quality in our schools.
  2. Bilingual-Bi-cultural education will be compulsory for Mexican-Americans in the Los Angeles City School System where there is a majority of Mexican-American students. This program will be open to all other students on a voluntary basis. A) in-service education programs will be instituted immediately for all staff in order to teach them the Spanish language and increase their understanding of the history, traditions, and contributions of the Mexican culture. B) All administrators in the elementary and secondary schools in these areas will become proficient in the Spanish language Participants are to be compensated during the training period at not less than $8.80 an hour and upon completion of the course will receive in addition to their salary not less than $100.00 a month. The monies for these programs will come from local funds, state funds and matching federal funds.
  3. Administrators and teachers who show any form of prejudice toward Mexican or Mexican-American students, including failure to recognize, understand, and appreciate Mexican culture and heritage, will be removed from East Los Angeles schools. This will be decided by a Citizens Review Board selected by the Educational Issues Committee.
  4. Textbooks and curriculum will be developed to show Mexican and Mexican-American contribution to the U.S. society and to show the injustices that Mexicans have suffered as a culture of that society. Textbooks should concentrate on Mexican folklore rather than English folklore.
  5. All administrators where schools have majority of Mexican-American descent shall be of Mexican-American descent. If necessary, training programs should be instituted to provide a cadre of Mexican-American administrators.
  6. Every teacher's ratio of failure per students in his classroom shall be made available to community groups and students. Any teacher having a particularly high percentage of the total school dropouts in his classes shall be rated by the Citizens Review Board composed of the Educational Issues Committee.

Administrative

  1. Schools should have a manager to take care of paper work and maintenance supervision. Administrators will direct the Education standards of the School instead of being head janitors and office clerks as they are today.
  2. School facilities should be made available for community activities under the supervision of Parents' Councils (not PTA). Recreation programs for children will be developed.
  3. No teacher will be dismissed or transferred because of his political views and/or philosophical disagreements with administrators.
  4. Community parents will be engaged as teacher's aides. Orientation similar to in-service training, will be provided, and they will be given status as semi-professionals as in the new careers concept.

Facilities

  1. The Industrial Arts program must be re-vitalized. Students need proper training to use the machinery of modern day industry. Up-to-date equipment and new operational techniques must replace the obsolescent machines and outmoded training methods currently being employed in this program. If this high standard cannot be met, the Industrial Arts program will be de-emphasized.
  2. New high schools in the area must be immediately built. The new schools will be named by the community. At least two Senior High Schools and at least one Junior High School must be built. Marengo Street School must be reactivated to reduce the student-teacher load at Murchison Street School.
  3. The master plans for Garfield High School and Roosevelt High School must go into effect immediately.
  4. Library facilities will be expanded in all East Los Angeles high schools. At present the libraries in these high schools do not meet the educational needs of the students. Sufficient library materials will be provided in Spanish.
  5. Open-air student eating areas should be made into roofed eating malls. As an example, Los Angeles High School.

Student Rights

  1. Corporal punishment will only be administrated according to State Law.
  2. Teachers and administrators will be rated by the students at the end of each semester.
  3. Students should have access to any type of literature and should be allowed to bring it on campus.
  4. Students who spend time helping teachers shall be given monetary and/or credit compensation.
  5. Students will be allowed to have guest speakers to club meetings. The only regulation should be to inform the club sponsor.
  6. Dress and grooming standards will be determined by a group of a) students and b) parents.
  7. Student body offices shall be open to all students. A high grade point average shall not be considered as a pre-requisite to eligibility.
  8. Entrances to all buildings and restrooms should be accessible to all students during schools hours. Security can be enforced by designated students.
  9. Student menus should be Mexican oriented. When Mexican food is served, mother from the barrios should come to the school and help supervise the preparation of the food. These mothers will meet the food handler requirements of Los Angeles City Schools and they will be compensated for their services.
  10. School janitorial services should be restricted to the employees hired for that purposes by the school board. Students will be punished by picking up paper or trash and keeping them out of class.
  11. Only area superintendents can suspend students.

Source: Latinopia Document - 1968 E.L.A High School Walk-Out Demands